Jul/2019

Vice Squad – Blu-ray Review!

by Gumbercules9000 on Jul 25th, 2019

So a pimp, a prostitute, and a police detective walk into a bar. It sounds like the start of a bad joke or what could be a really good time with names like Princess and Ramrod, but in the case of 1982’s action film Vice Squad, that’s not always the case. In fact, this is a super sexualized crime thriller with some hardcore violence and one rough bad guy. This movie is the culmination of the late 70s and early 80s that brought together a ton of top-tier talent, which is funny because this movie is so over-the-top violent, that you can’t believe it was ever made and released. Gary Sherman directed this pic, who previously just came off Dead and Buried and went onto make Poltergeist III. He was joined by producing partner Robert Rehme (former president of Avco Pictures who helped make a ton of John Carpenter movies, including The Fog and Escape From New York). Also collaborating with this duo was cinematographer John Alcott, who had previously worked on four of Stanley Kubrick’s best films, including 2001: A Spacy Oddessy, Barry Lyndon, The Shining, and A Clockwork Orange. Rounding out this stellar crew of talent is composer Joe Renzetti (Child’s Play). While the story may be your standard grindhouse B-movie affair, the visual style, camera angles, and score are out of this world.

THE FILM


Vice Squad was originally made to be a TV series based on the real-life experiences of a Los Angeles police officer, which looked at many different aspects of the criminal world of Southern California. Sherman though thought it would work better as a shorter movie and cut the story down to prostitution and murder. This is where we meet a pimp named Ramrod, played incredibly by Wings Hauser (father of Cole Hauser of Dazed and Confused and Good Will Hunting). Ramrod is not above committing severe physical abuse to his harem of ladies, as we get a first-hand look at him using a wire coat hanger on an unlucky working lady in more ways than one.

Meanwhile, there is a prostitute by the name of Princess (Season Hubley), who is a mother by day and who is now working with law enforcement to bring Ramrod to justice. Early on, Ramrod is captured, but he soon escapes and is out to find and brutally kill Princess. Now the police, led by detective Tom Walsh (Gary Swanson), must find Ramrod and Princess before the two of them cross paths.

Where Vice Squad still succeeds more than 35 years later is with the magnificent visuals of the crime-ridden streets with neon signs lighting up the night sky, and where all various walks of seedy criminal life come out to play for a few hours a day. The film also knows exactly what it is and never tries to be anything more. It never preaches a message or tries to have an underlying theme. Even our protagonist Princess tells us that these nasty streets will never change and just accept this way of life.

With the setup and mix of sex, rough violence, and revenge, you can easily see a glimmer of Martin Scorsese’s Taxi Driver, where a Travis Bickle might be taking his vigilante role to a start on the streets. That’s evident here with Princess and Walsh. But with Vice Squad, it’s more of a straight and narrow path of revenge than it is of trying to change the world.┬áHauser, Hubley, and Swanson all turn in excellent performances here, with Hauser standing out with his psychotic rendering of a psychopath who thinks he can get away with anything. Vice Squad can still produce its thrills and excitement many years later.

THE VIDEO


I always look forward to these vintage releases to see how well these 30 something-year-old films hold up with new transfers. Scream Factory usually hits a home run in this department, and this new 4K scan of the original film elements is no different. Vice Squad looks better than ever with this fresh 1080p HD transfer that breathes new life into the color palette and detail of this 1982 film.

The opening scene of the picture is a montage of b-roll footage of the sordid life on the night time streets. Neon signs of porn theaters, bars, and cafes open late night populate the scenery with a fantastic richness. The glow from these signs are bold and stand out nicely against the dark alleys and backgrounds. The colorful pimp suits all have a crisp hue as do interior settings. When inside a hotel or apartment room, the natural browns, greens, and more earthy like tones have significant upgrades where we can now tell the different shades of color on props and set dressings. Red lipstick and blood are more pronounced as are the many different black levels at night and in shadowy corners. They are jet-black and striking. Skin tones are more natural and never overly saturated like in previous releases.

The detail also has a noticeable uptick where heavy makeup blemishes show up more, practical makeup effects of gore and wounds show the fine details in their slashes and markings. Individual hairs, wrinkles, and those comprehensive wardrobe textures all are visible now. It’s like watching the film for the first time. Wider shots also look cleaner as well, which gives the claustrophobic maze of the city streets some needed depth. Lastly, there were no major issues with banding or aliasing, although there was still some dirt and debris in a couple of moments, that added to the nostalgic and filmic aspect of this older, violent movie.

THE AUDIO


Scream Factory delivers a DTS-HD MA Mono track that has plenty of power for a gritty action/crime film. I only wish there was an optional 5.1 mix too. In that case, I could hear the car chases, gunshots, and other wild sound effects travel through the speakers, as well as a more immersive atmosphere of the city life in the rears. Still, this Mono track packs a punch where it counts.

Vehicle engines rev up to a robust roar and gun blasts sound off with vigor, however, there isn’t a big low end to add any heft to the soundscape. Sound effects of punches and kicks to the flesh, along with doors opening and slamming shut all have a decent impact but are never startling. Sounds on the street of people talking, as well as police radios, bar clientele, and other music all sound well-balanced, but again, it’s all focused on one channel. Dialogue is clean and never has a tin can sound, while the impressive score always enhances the suspense of each scene.

THE EXTRAS


Holy Moly! There are 337 minutes of bonus material here. That is NOT a typo either. I guess everyone wanted to talk about the film and Scream Factory obliged them. There are six interviews in total with the cast and crew that give way to some fun and interesting stories of working in Hollywood. Rounding out the interviews is a skippable location extra, trailers, and image gallery. I’m all for comprehensive extras, but six hours of just talking head interviews can cause a coma.

New Audio Commentary – This brand new audio commentary has director Gary Sherman and producer Brian Frankish rehashing working on the film together and some fun anecdotes of the actors and on-locating filming. A lot of this is covered in the below interviews.

Vintage Audio Commentary – This is a vintage commentary track from the previous release of the film, which offers more of the same information above and below.

Tracking the Beast: Interview with Actor Gary Swanson (HD, 58 Mins.) – A fantastic and energetic interview with actor Gary Swanson, who plays the police detective in the film. Swanson talks about his career, coming aboard the film, the tones, themes, and everyone’s performance. He is very candid about the movie and has some fun stories about Hollywood, some involving cocaine.

Of Poltergeist and Neon Lights: Interview with Director Gary Sherman (HD, 72 Mins.) – Another lengthy and informative interview with director Gary Sherman this time. While not as lively as Swanson’s interview above, the content is just as good, as Sherman discusses his other horror films, choosing Vice Squad to direct, and working on the movie. Again, there are some truly fascinating stories of Hollywood here.

Hollywood Magic: Interview with Producer Brian Frankish (HD, 62 Mins.) – An additional long-form interview with the producer of the film, which is a detailed account of Frankish’s life, career, and work on Vice Squad. There are a ton of movie business anecdotes and behind the scenes stories of his time in Hollywood.

The Roots of Reality: Interview with Actress Beverly Todd (HD, 44 Mins.) – This extended interview focuses on Beverly’s life, a career in film and television, her inspiration for acting, and working on Vice Squad. This is a fantastic interview.

Catching a Killer: Interview with Actor Pepe Serna (HD, 59 Mins.) – Born in Texas, Pepe talks in this very long interview about performing from three years old, how he got into the movie business, his life and career, and his time spent on this particular film and the impact it had on himself and its audience.

Princess Driver: Interview with Actor Michael Ensign (HD, 24 Mins.) – The shortest of the interviews here focuses on Ensign’s life and career in film, his start in the movie business, and working on Vice Squad. There are some quick, fun stories of the movie business here.

Hollywood Streetwalking: A Look at the Locations (HD, 12 Mins.) – This is just a montage of clips from the film, which then transitions to the same location present day. There is no narration or anything.

Trailers (HD, 6 Mins.) – A collection of trailers and TV spots for the film.

Image Gallery (HD) – A wonderful smattering of promo art and behind the scenes photos are collected here.

THE ULTIMATE WORD


Vice Squad is a savagely violent film set in the chaotic city where crime and prostitution are rampant. The filmmakers honestly tell this tale of revenge and justice with some good performances and one top-notch crew. The film still holds up to this day if you can stomach the brutality. Scream Factory gave this cult hit a wonderful new transfer, kept its original Mono audio track, and delivered over six hours of bonus content. This is a spectacular release and comes Highly Recommended!

Written by: Bryan Kluger

CLICK HERE TO PURCHASE ‘VICE SQUAD’ FROM SCREAM FACTORY

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